Municipalities are looking for ways to boost the amount of material they collect, including high-value paper.
Municipal recycling programs are struggling to increase diversion rates to meet industry’s demand for secondary raw materials without increasing the amount of money they can dedicate to educational and promotional programs.
The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) recently released its annual "Recovered Paper Statistical Highlights" brochure. The association reports that in 2004 the total volume of paper and paperboard recovered for recycling in the U.S. reached an all-time high of 50.3 million tons. The overall paper recovery rate edged slightly lower to 49.5 percent in light of a downturn in export demand and a rebound in paper and paperboard supply. The overall gain in volume was driven by domestic mill consumption of recovered paper, which rose 3.2 percent, according to AF&PA statistics.
Expanding domestic and export demand will require increased recovery of post-consumer paper to meet AF&PA’s goal of reaching a 55 percent paper recovery rate by 2012. Municipalities are doing their part to try to meet this recovery goal, using innovative means to increase recycling participation among residents and businesses alike.
RETURN ON PUBLICITY. The pattern has been identical across the country: Within a few years after a recycling program is established, the accompanying information and publicity budget is slashed with the thought that the initial burst of publicity has set up a program that will keep humming along nicely.
But a session on the topic of successful curbside programs at the National Recycling Coalition (NRC) Annual Congress and Exposition, held in Minneapolis Aug. 29-31, produced a chorus of opinions that residents need reminders and continued re-education for programs to remain viable—let alone to increase participation.
Tim Pratt of Roseville, Minn., a Twin Cities suburb, says he is fortunate to run a program in a city where recycling is looked upon favorably and where the population turnover rate is fairly low.
But that second factor could be changing as "empty nesters" begin to sell their homes, and Roseville is taking steps to ensure that new residents participate as vigorously (and wisely) as long-time residents.
"Communication is the key," Pratt told attendees, who has found a refrigerator magnet that is half bright green and half bright red as being a helpful tool. The green side of the magnet features a "Yes" column of commodities acceptable in the curbside bin, while the red side features a "No" column of unwanted materials.
Similarly, a brochure issued by Denver Recycles features photos of what is acceptable in one area and photos with a slash through them for unacceptable items in another area. The easily understandable brochure has helped reduce the collection of unwanted items, says Denver Recycles Program Manager Charlotte Pitt.
A publicity campaign that has included the brochure as a way to familiarize Denver residents with their new single-stream collection system helped the city collect 1,400 tons of recyclables this July vs. 1,100 tons in July of 2004.
In Pennsylvania, John Fredericks, executive director of PROP (Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania), says his association surveyed the 100 largest solid waste/recycling districts in the Keystone State to gauge opinions on what factors are important to good programs.
Respondents listed education as a vital component, along with support from elected officials, support from the public and enforcement of existing recycling regulations.
The state is challenged by the existence of so many municipalities within each of its counties, such as the 128 municipalities that exist in Allegheny County, ranging from the city of Pittsburgh to tiny boroughs.
Presenter Steve Thompson of the Aluminum Can Council, Ashland, Va., says his organization (co-funded by the Aluminum Association and the Can Manufacturers Institute) is offering educational resources that can help curbside program managers reach out to non-participating residents.
The organization offers pilot programs and partnership arrangements with municipal programs, with several successful efforts already underway, according to Thompson.
In Brevard County, Fla., Thompson says each $1 spent on educational materials has thus far yielded a return of $1.32 in commodity revenue to the recycling program and additional revenue to the MRF contractor.
THE DOTTED LINE. In jurisdictions where environmental considerations alone will not safeguard recycling programs, then cost-sharing and revenue sharing aspects of contracts with haulers and processors must be planned and negotiated thoroughly.
A session on the topic of contracts held at the NRC Annual Congress offered several examples of how municipalities have worked to ensure that they offer fiscal responsibility to their taxpayers and elected officials.
In Colorado, Denver Recycles’s Pitt says her agency had a variety of goals in mind when negotiating its current contract, including improving efficiencies, offering better safety conditions for workers, increasing the amount of material collected and maximizing fiscal responsibility.
The city of Denver collects curbside material itself, but contracted processing out to the former Tri-R Recycling plant, now owned by Waste Management Inc.’s Recycle America Alliance. According to Pitt, the plant was centrally located to minimize hauling costs.
The contract also guarantees the city will receive $33 per ton for what is marketed, with an "upmarket clause" that can go into effect when secondary commodity prices increase.
In a separate presentation, Peter Engel of consulting firm TERRA, Newburyport, Mass., detailed how a regional MRF in Springfield, Mass., sought proposals from several bidders before ultimately deciding to again work with the Recycle America Alliance division of Waste Management Inc., Houston.
Under terms of the current contract, communities are paid $15.67 for material that is collected by communities either through curbside service or at drop-off centers. There is also a revenue-sharing clause based upon market index pricing for a weighted blend of commodities (with higher volume commodities such as ONP carrying greater weight).
Engel’s advice to communities preparing for the bidding or proposal process is to provide a proposal that can almost double as a final contract, so that all who submit bids will know the precise terms of the pending contract. He also recommends a revenue sharing arrangement, perhaps based on published market indexes.
In the congress’ host city of Minneapolis, Solid Waste and Recycling Division Director Susan Young said her job is made easier by the city’s pro-recycling attitude. Nonetheless, the division has worked hard to earn a 98 percent approval rating for the recycling program within the city, which exceeds even that for the fire department, she noted.
The level of source-separation discipline and participation from the 108,000 households served provides the city with marketable commodities, says Young. "I make money. Selling garbage doesn’t work; selling recyclables does," she told attendees. The city has refrained from single-stream collection partly for this reason, she noted.
In 2005, Minneapolis has been receiving $73 per ton for old newspapers (ONP), minus a $30 per ton processing fee, for a $43 per ton spread. Overall, the Minneapolis department earned $800,000 in commodity revenue in 2003, $1.3 million last year, and is predicting up to $2 million for this year.
"If you want to sell recyclables, you have to collect clean materials," Young emphasized.
COMMERCIAL APPEAL. Attracting businesses to participate in municipal recycling programs presents its challenges, and another session at the NRC Annual Congress provided suggestions for reaching out and capturing commercial customers.
Michael Talbert of the Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) Solid Waste Department, said the department takes a business approach to its solid waste management programs. The county has a mandatory business recycling ordinance that requires businesses that contract for 16 cubic yards or more of trash service to separate and recycle its OCC and office paper.
The Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Department rewards and promotes businesses that show leadership in recycling, he said. The county has a full-time inspector who looks at roughly 25 businesses per week to enforce the mandate. Businesses are also surveyed and visited at random to make sure they comply with the ordinance.
The county can fine companies for non-compliance with the ordinance, though Talbert said it’s "not very compelling." Despite the paltry fine, the county has not had to fine a business yet, he said.
Robin Burton serves as the zero waste services coordinator for Eco-Cycle in Boulder, Colo. Eco-Cycle offers its comprehensive services, including composting, at a price comparable to trash services and recycling, she said, allowing for a 10 percent markup.
Promotion figures prominently into Eco-Cycle’s business services. Burton says the organization’s collection trucks carry signage promoting the companies it services, adding that this helps to generate positive public relations for them. Eco-Cycle also runs ads in local business journals promoting its customers.
Currently, 650 businesses participate in Eco-Cycle’s commercial recycling programs, with nearly 40 companies taking part in the composting program it introduced roughly two years ago, Burton said.
Brian Ukena with Recycle Works, part of the West River Valley Regional Solid Waste Management District based in Clarksville, Ark., said he had to overcome the "credibility issues" recycling had in the area because of the lack of recycling companies. Therefore, the government provides the recycling services to a nine-county solid waste district with a population of 250,000.
The Recycle Works material recovery facility (MRF) measures 35,000 square feet and includes sorting and baling capacity. "It is going to take industry and industry tons to make this facility work," Ukena said of the facility, which he likes to keep clean and tidy.
To capture these tons, Recycle Works does a variety of commercial out-reach activities, including on-site waste assessments; combined garbage and recycling services; peer exchanges; volume-based rates; and manufacturing workshops.
When taken piecemeal, these approaches may not drastically alter participation and diversion rates recorded by municipal recycling programs; but, in combination, they may help municipal programs secure more tonnage, better processing rates and more favorable contracts.
The authors are editor and managing editor of Recycling Today. They can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.